It’s been a while since the New Jersey Devils lost a game (Oct. 24, to be exact). The Arizona Coyotes, riding a three-game winning streak heading into last night’s game, couldn’t hand New Jersey their first loss in two and a half weeks, as the Devils defeated the Coyotes 4-2 for their ninth win in a row. Even with New Jersey down to their third-string goalie in Akira Schmid, they still found a way to pull off the victory. Here are four takeaways and some quick hits from yet another impressive showing.
The Devils Played Well in Front of Schmid
Making his first start since last season, Schmid had the task of keeping the Devils’ winning streak alive. He already did so in the team’s 4-3 overtime win against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. But that came in relief of Vitek Vanecek, who left with an injury with about nine minutes remaining in regulation.
Schmid’s starts a season ago did not go well, but that wasn’t a surprise for a 21-year-old who essentially went from playing junior hockey in the USHL to the NHL in a matter of months. Last night was different for Schmid, however, as he looked like a much-improved goaltender. His positioning was sound, and the game didn’t look like it was too quick for him.
In all, Schmid gave up two goals on 1.44 expected goals. That might not seem great, but the Coyotes’ first tally came on a fluke bounce off Jonas Siegenthaler during a penalty kill, and Schmid didn’t have much chance of stopping it. The Coyotes’ second goal was just pure skill from Clayton Keller, so it was hard to fault Schmid for that. Otherwise, he made some quality saves throughout the game.
It also helped that the Devils, the best defensive team in the league at five-on-five, played like the best defensive team at five-on-five. The Coyotes don’t have much firepower, and there were plenty of power plays that limited how much of the game was played at five-on-five, but the Devils still held the Coyotes to 0.71 expected goals and two high-danger chances at that game state. That’ll help for a promising 22-year-old goalie who’s still finding his footing at the pro level.
Hischier Line Making Case for One of NHL’s Best
Coming into last night’s game, the line of Tomáš Tatar, Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund was one of the best in the NHL, posting a 74.2 expected goals percentage (xG%) at five-on-five. That ranked first in the NHL among lines with at least 70 minutes logged (via Money Puck).
Related: Devils News & Rumors: Hischier, Goaltending & More
Latest News & Highlights
The Hischier line added to their impressive totals last night, as the Devils controlled play with them on the ice at five-on-five. They got the scoring started via Tatar, who received a slick pass from Zetterlund for a grade-A scoring chance that he converted for a 1-0 lead. The Devils put up an 85.09 xG% and had a 5-1 advantage in scoring chances with them on the ice, and that’s certainly not the first time their numbers have looked like that during this winning streak.
This trio is doing a bit of everything as well. They’re scoring and finding plenty of ways to net goals off the cycle and the forecheck, not just off the rush. Though Hischier has been one of the best two-way forwards in the league to start the season, Zetterlund and Tatar have played their part too. It gives head coach Lindy Ruff a jack-of-all-trades type of line, which has played a significant role in them winning nine games in a row.
Ruff’s Line Changes Provided a Spark
Speaking of Ruff, his decision to shake up his line combinations about midway through the second period made a difference. It’s not that the Devils were playing poorly, nor did he throw all four lines in a blender, but it did open up the game a bit. Since it was quite the low-event slow slog for 30 minutes, Ruff moved Yegor Sharangovich to a line with Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt, while Erik Haula moved down to center Jesper Boqvist and Dawson Mercer.
The move paid off, as Boqvist scored the go-ahead goal off a pretty feed from Haula in the second period to make it 3-2, which proved to be the eventual game-winner. While Sharangovich, Hughes and Bratt didn’t score together, they got things going at five-on-five, finishing with a 73.66 xG%.
Given that the Devils have won nine in a row, I’d imagine Ruff returns to the lines that started yesterday’s game (Haula/Hughes/Bratt, Sharangovich/Mercer/Boqvist). No one could fault him for doing so. With that said, Sharangovich and Mercer had struggled to get going over the previous few games, with no points in four contests. The switch helped both players, as Boqvist/Haula/Mercer finished with an 84.69 xG%. It’s probably at least worth considering sticking with the changes made halfway through yesterday’s game.
Devils Special Teams Were All Over the Place
The Devils’ special teams have been quite good this season, but they had an inconsistent performance yesterday. Their power play was 1/8, though a couple of them were abbreviated, so they never had the chance to set up. Still, they scored a goal, courtesy of Dougie Hamilton, fired a whopping 20 shot attempts and had 13 scoring chances when up a man. It improved as the game progressed, so it was a decent night overall after a rocky start.
As for the penalty kill, they struggled a bit. As mentioned above, Schmid didn’t have much chance of stopping the redirect off Siegenthaler. Keller’s goal was quite a bit of skill on his part, but Devils penalty killers also let him get in behind the defense and in all alone on Schmid. Yet, they did come up with a couple of timely kills later in the game to help seal the win. Ultimately, the Coyotes weren’t threatening enough at five-on-five for Devils’ special teams to cost them the game, but better teams will make them pay for performances like that moving forward.
- Hughes has had poor shooting luck so far, but he netted one of his prettiest goals of the season in the first period with a wicked wrister off the rush. He was flying, especially in the second half of the game when Ruff switched the line combos. He finished with a 69.69 xG% at five-on-five and five shots on goal, eight shot attempts, and three scoring chances at all strengths. Hughes is not on Hischier’s level defensively, but his two-way game has taken a big step forward this season. And to this point, it hasn’t affected his production, as he sits at a point-per-game pace.
- After a relatively quiet stretch of games, I thought Damon Severson had one of his best performances of the season. He was quite involved offensively, as he finished with seven shot attempts and four scoring chances at all strengths. He was sound defensively and made a couple of clutch shot blocks, and his game score of 2.55 ranked second among all skaters — Coyotes included. If the Devils can get that consistently from Severson, sustaining their already impressive defense shouldn’t be much of an issue.
- With a goal and an assist, Tatar extended his point streak to seven games — a career-high. He didn’t just score a goal and take the rest of the night off, either, with his game score of 3.52 ranking first among all skaters. With three goals and 11 points in 15 games, he’s now on pace for 16 goals and 60 points this season, so his bounce-back year is in full swing after a difficult 2021-22.
The Devils will head north of the border for a three-game swing in Eastern Canada, where they’ll take on the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Senators, in that order. They’ll go for ten wins in a row at the Bell Center on Tuesday night against the Canadiens. Of note, Vanecek will travel with the team and will hopefully be available for the road trip.
* * *
Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Stat Cards